I went shopping in the city last Thursday. It did not go well. I wandered Target in a fog for about two hours selecting and then rejecting things, unsure why I thought I needed them or convicted because I wasn't sure the money was there to buy them. My acquisition urge was raging, but I had no clear soundings for choosing.
This fuzzy wanting state descends upon me sometimes when I'm shopping, usually when I'm alone. I see so many things that seem desirable. I want that, and that, and that other thing, too! I just want until it seems a twitching, almost compulsive urge that needs to be, not satisfied, but relinquished.
With that in mind, and after accomplishing the task that caused the trip and more (Discontinued nail polish matched! Sherry vinegar obtained! Deeply discounted winter shoes found!), I saw the wisdom of letting it all go and heading home. When the winter shoes didn't fit at home the way they had in the store, I lost grip on contentment once again. My felt happiness was still disturbed that night, which made it difficult to write with fun (Unhappiness is not a good muse. It's taken me days to write this.), but reflecting on the experience did remind me of something I've often fallen back on in times like these.
Ten years or so ago I was newly separated, busted down to a studio apartment and adjusting to getting by on....less household income, shall we say. I remember an evening when I entertained myself by leafing through a catalog and turning down corners of pages containing items I wanted. When I closed the catalog and saw all the folded corners, I realized that there was no way I would ever be buying all those things. This was a depressing thought, a limiting thought.
I had run up against this knowledge before. I had always thought I wanted a great many things and never had money or debt tolerance to buy even a fraction of them. The situation had always been a downer. But that night I decided that I didn't want to be miserable any more about a situation I could not change and a desire that felt outsized and misguided.
After all, I did not need any of those coveted things. I decided that I would let my life tell me what I needed, and that's what I would buy. I found myself saying these words in my mind any time I felt full of that bottomless want:
Let your life tell you what it needs.
The phrase served as a reminder that I had what I needed and the ability to supply those needs. Anything after that was a bonus. Neither advertisers and manufacturers, with their promotions and persuasions, nor my own compulsions were the arbiters of my purchasing power. My own genuine life needs were.
After a few instinctive fall backs, the phrase achieved official mantra status. I didn't avoid feeling disturbance last Thursday, but I did fall back on my self created wisdom while lost in Target. That's why everything went back out of the cart except the $8.00 nail polish that I was clear I wanted and knew I could afford, and why I looked for winter shoes whose absence had been noticed last season. When the inner toddler gets a case of the gimmes, it's time to walk away and breathe and only buy what I'm clear I've had an inner order for.
Of course, sometimes I wish later that I'd walked away with an item that haunts me. This is the collateral damage of acquisitive attacks, when true desires become indistinguishable from passing ones. I still remember the sandals that made my feet say "Ah" two summers ago in Richmond. And now there's the pewter ones I left at Target on Thursday. I regretted that omission as soon as I was on the interstate home. But letting go is the only way to find peace about it, and they might have felt different at home, too! Producers will continue to make pretty things to want and then try to convince us to buy them. There will always be more to acquire, and happiness isn't found in obtaining any of it. Life truly does go spinning on, and just as happily.
The greater wisdom of my little mantra is that I'm instructing myself to look within for purchasing guidance rather than without. Desires that arise from authentic living in that way are worth honoring. They are usually meaningful, even if they are also for shoes. They come from and augment the process of becoming my truer self. They are not about acquiring, or holding on to something, so much as expressing, or letting something out. That twitching wanting is a need to fill an emptiness. Fully funded and soul-led shopping is about adding to fullness. Like distinguishing salt and sugar, two purchases may look the same but taste very different. One is sweetly free, the other bitingly tight. Only the buyer knows the difference.
I'm thankful to know that difference now. I can't avoid being human and therefore vulnerable to attacks of the wants, but I can choose wisely to pat that urge on the head and say, "Now, now. You know that's not the way. Put your little hands down and let's go home where we have all we need."
The best part is more enjoyment of what I do buy. New pretties without a guilt hangover make life finer indeed.